26 Jul Getting tested for Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) at Home
Written by: Avanti Arseculeratne
After her first STI test 5 years ago, Anna got into the habit of getting tested every time she changed partners. She had been seeing somebody for a couple of months yet was unsure as to whether they had gotten tested in the recent past. “Even though we vaguely discussed it, it felt awkward to explicitly ask,” she said.
She noted how this ‘vague discussion’ had happened in the heat of the moment – a situation that sex therapist, Deb Laino advises against. Such discussions often feel awkward and uncomfortable for many people, whether this is due to fear, embarrassment or uncertainty about what to say. Without having had this discussion to completion, Anna felt a constant underlying sense of worry. With a busy work schedule that made it difficult for her to visit her local STI clinic, she decided to order an STI home test kit.
“A lot of people don’t know about home test kits” commented Faridat Raifu who has been a Community Champion with Brook’s Love Sex Life Service for the past year and a half. “STI Home test kits can be beneficial for people who work a lot and would have difficulty visiting an STI clinic, live far from a clinic or have no time in the week to visit one” she went on to say.
So what exactly are home test kits and what is the process of using one?
In 2015, the London Sexual Health Partnership – a partnership of 31 London local authorities working with the NHS – was set up to improve access to sexual health services. Free and easy to use, these home test kits have been popular with the public, with 98% of people who have used the service noting they would recommend it to friends or family.
Step 1: Order a test. You could use the Sexual Health London service, which involves completing a short online consultation after which your order will be assessed the same day. Alternatively, if your area is not listed on this service, Brook and Sexwise provide a range of other home test kit options depending on where you live. The test should then arrive a few days later.
Step 2: Take the blood samples and necessary swabs. The box contains a vaginal swab test (for those with a vagina) and a urine collection pouch (for those with a penis) into which a urine sample is collected. These test for chlamydia and gonorrhea. The box also contains the equipment necessary to collect blood samples which will be tested for HIV and syphilis (a lancet to make a tiny prick in your fingertip and a collection tube for the blood). You might also be sent a swab for your throat and one for your anus if you are a sex worker or put yourself down in the category of ‘men who have sex with men’. The SHL website includes videos that can guide you on how to take these swabs and samples.
Step 3: Put the samples back in the box and post it. After collecting the necessary samples, you will need to complete a form and pop into the box before you send it off. Make sure the box is sealed, put it in the packaging and pop it into your nearest post box.
Step 4: Check your results. Your samples will be tested in a lab and your results will be posted on your online SHL profile (or the profile of whichever clinic you received your home test kit). If you have tested positive for any STI, you will require a follow-up.
Faridat goes on to describe how even though home test kits have been a great relief and advantage for many, for some they do not prove to be so easy to use.
“If you live in a house where parents or family check your mail, this might not be an appropriate method to get tested”, she said, noting that under such circumstances it might be better to go to a clinic. In her line of work, Faridat says it’s important to be aware of differences in people’s lives and circumstances- to be culturally sensitive and advise people accordingly in terms of the best methods of getting tested. For those without such worries, home test kits have proved to be a quick, easy and efficient way of getting tested and maintaining their sexual health.
The topic of STIs is still surrounded by stigma and shame. Not only does this make having conversations about them difficult, but it also complicates testing as well as follow-up treatment, especially when people fear the stigma that they may face.
In Anna’s case, although home test kits have allowed her to keep a track of her sexual health, the important factor of having an open conversation about STIs and testing beforehand is something that she is still learning to manoeuvre.